In 1946, Herb Jeffries began reading the Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda. It was during a period of long convalescence after Herb was almost killed in a small airplane crash.
Herb was lucky to survive that day, but had to stay in the hospital for months. Doctors told him that he would need an operation to relieve the chronic pain from severe spinal injuries. While reading Yogananda’s autobiography, the vibrations of that book touched Herb deeply, and he began to realize that he was protected by a guardian angel during the crash — he recognized that angel as his God-ordained Guru, Yogananda.
Deciding to humble himself before the Master, Herb arrived in painful desperation one day without an appointment.
A Sister of the SRF monastic order kindly greeted Herb at the door, but she quickly insisted that he should make an appointment to see Yogananda. The “jive-talkin” Jeffries was not use to being stone-walled by anyone, so he explained how he was famous in Hollywood for performing in principal roles in a series of black cowboy films: The Bronze Buckaroo, Two Gun Man from Harlem and Harlem Rides the Range from 1937–39. In addition, he was a famous jazz singer and performed with the Duke Ellington Orchestra 1939–43. Herb sang the song, “Flamingo,” which sold 14 million copies —an unheard of amount of records in those days.
Even after hearing about all his accolades, the Sister was still unmoved. Just at that moment of intense impasse, Yogananda shouted from his upstairs apartment to the astonished Sister, “Sister, send him up! Send him up!”
Herb had a blessed encounter with Yogananda that day. He told the Master about his life as an actor and jazz singer, and his choice to cross the color line and help to uplift people of African-American descent.
Born as Umberto Alejandro Balentino of Sicilian descent in Detroit, Michigan, Herb took of the name, Jeffries, after his mother remarried an Ethiopian man of that surname. Herb’s real father fought in WWI and never returned home. Jeffries once characterized himself as “three-eighths Negro,” but eventually reclaimed his Caucasian heritage, simply stating that he was a true chameleon: centered in many races within the “one human race.”
Looking beyond all outer appearances, Yogananda accepted Jeffries that day and began to work with his soul potential. He told Herb the changes he would need to make in his life in order to be healed of his plane crash injuries.
Herb visited with Yogananda on a regular basis for over a year and followed his instructions. Gradually, Herb was healed of his chronic pain and all spinal injuries disappeared. His doctors were amazed by Herb’s rapid recovery and called it a miracle!
Astonished that Yogananda had the intuitive knowledge and power to heal him, Herb decided to become a devoted follower of the Guru’s teachings. Swami Kriyananda wrote about Herb in his autobiography, The New Path, and how he prepared Herb for Kriya Yoga and subsequently initiated him, in Paramhansa Yogananda’s name, into the sacred science of Self-realization.
In 1998 Herb Jeffries reconnected with Swami Kriyananda for the first time after many years. Swamiji allowed Herb to meet with a group of Ananda devotees on pilgrimage from Europe. Herb was 87 years old at the time, and he looked like he was in his 60s. He spoke with the group of over 30 pilgrims at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, then went with them to dinner at Smeraldi’s Restaurant. Herb spoke with them about his time with Yogananda and told many wonderful stories. Here is some of what he said:
My time with Paramhansa Yogananda was limited, but I loved meeting him at Lake Shrine. It was my favorite place. I used to meet Yogananda down there all the time. I’d watched him swim. Then, when he got out of the lake, I noticed in awe how the fish used to follow him around in the water and when he walked on the shoreline.
I was once sitting with Yoganandaji in his room at Mt. Washington at Self Realization Fellowship headquarters. We had a beautiful view of the distance hills and mountains. Guruiji was talking to me in his wonderful kind voice. I was sitting on the floor listening to him. I had been with him for a year by then, and I started thinking, “I’ve been here a year, why don’t you do something miraculous like walking across the swimming pool?”
Suddenly, Yogananda responded to my mental question. He said, “Ah, what do you want me to do, boy, a Ten-Cent Store trick?”
He continued, “Suppose I take this incense burner and I take my hand away. You’ll see this thing levitating before you. This is a miraculous thing? No, we don’t want to do a Ten-Cent Store trick! Suppose I take this table. It’s a larger object, therefore a greater phenomenon. Ah, we don’t want to do a Ten-Cent Store trick.
“Suppose we take this room we are sitting in and let it rise like an elevator. It’s a larger object and therefore a greater phenomenon. Ah, we don’t want those Ten-Cent Store tricks.
“Look out the window and see that mountain. Suppose I take this mountain, lifting up this mountain and let it rise up into the air from the horizon. It’s a greater object and therefore a great, great, great phenomenon. Ah, we don’t want a Ten-Cent Store trick.
“Now, let suppose we take this planet earth, 25,000 miles in circumference. And I make it levitate in the firmament. No strings to hold it up, levitating! You see what I mean, boy? Why then, do you want me to do a Ten-Cent Store trick with this incense burner?”
We make a big thing out of levitation and yet we see the sun, the stars, and all the planets out there levitating. We don’t want to believe it. We are looking for phenomenon and yet the stars and planets levitate before us and we don’t see the mystery of life.
Every time you meditate, you lose a sense of gravity because you go into a space where God lives. And God knows no time or space. If he knows no time or space, he knows no gravity. So, when you go to the avatars, they know how to reverse their polarity, because they know we are all atomically being. We are the electric Man, electric Woman –Mankind.
So, when you meditate you go into the space where there is timelessness. If you go into space of timelessness for one hour in the morning and for one hour at night, that’s two hours a day, multiply that by 365 days out of the year, then you’ve got 730 hours. Divide that by 24 hours in a day and that is about 30 days out of the year that you are meditating and you have not aged. So if you want to stop the aging process, you want to find that space where you can slow it down. The more you meditate, the more you slow down the aging process.
That is one part of process. But if you take care of this body, you’ll realize that you are what you eat. If you look into the Bible, God says, “I’ve given you all the herbs and vegetation for thy meat.” He didn’t say anything about flesh! I don’t eat much anymore. I eat very little. As we become vintage, we don’t become old. We are vintage! The best wines are vintage. The best cheese is vintage. And try to buy some vintage furniture. It is very precious and costly. So as we become vintage, we don’t require food to eat so much when we are sustained more by spiritual means. Most people go to church because they have a problem and they hope that it will be relieved in some way. As long as we know that all of us are human beings, that we have some sort of problem, then we can try and cure it.
The biggest problem that we are facing on this earth right now is that this earth is suffering from a nervous breakdown. So, it is with us, and people who are into these practices of meditation like us, it is our purpose to sit in our meditation. In our meditations, we are going to be able to do some powerful things. Meditation is much like a micro-wave. We pass it from one another onto others. Eventually we’ll be able to saturate this planet with this kind of thought where no power can do any harm to it. So, what we must do is to think of ourselves, now, like a scientific laboratory of the highest science there is on the face of this earth. Yoga is higher than any science there is. For that reason, remember the importance of meditation. It is so important!
When I went to Yoganandaji for my illness, I had injuries from a plane crash. I had three herniated discs in the spine. I was in serious trouble. When I was recovering from the accident, I read Autobiography of a Yogi. I had gone to doctors and doctors to get relief with pain killers, muscle relaxers, and drugs to help my pain. I wasn’t getting too many results from it. Then, they were going to send me to a Phoenix hospital for a triple laminectamy. At this particular point, I read his book and thought I should meet this guy. I don’t want to go to the hospital. People were dying from that operation in those days. In my desperation, I thought I should give Yogananda a try.
So, I got on a train in Detroit, Michigan, where I was recovering, and went to Los Angeles. The earliest story of seeing him comes to mind where I was pleading with a nun at Mt. Washington, “I must see him! I must see him!” Although I didn’t have a scheduled appointment, Yogananda saw me and advised me to do a few things to relieve the pain. Within less than a year of following Yogananda’s instructions, my spine with fused together and I was healed. It’s true!
I’m telling you this because if you keep your body and mind in the right condition, you can heal yourself naturally. Right eating and meditation has a lot to do with it. For example, staying away from red meat is very important. Red meats hold a lot of toxins. When you kill an animal, it holds toxins from the fear generated at the time of slaughter. So, if you want to heal yourself, naturally, stay away from red meats and meditate…
Why do you think Guruiji’s body was left in such a perfect state of preservation after his passing? Because his body was so pure! It was pure because he had gotten rid himself of all the karma. A guru, a master, can take on karma from his disciple, or chela, because his karma is so pure. He can throw it off….
St. Francis of Assisi represents a message of “brother sun and sister moon.” You see, I’m wearing the Tau symbol of St. Francis around my neck. It is symbolic of the masculine and feminine nature of man, the sun and moon. In this way we must create balance within ourselves and get into the Mother. We all have a Mother. Let us embrace God as the Mother of us all!
Okay, I am going to depend upon you, at this meeting we’ve had this evening, to take this message to heart. Go deep within yourself and search for the answers. The answers are there. It’s called INFORMATION. As far as it is the cosmos, in its infinitude, so it is inside of you. In order for it to be equal, the space that is out there has to be in here, within you. So, inside of us is as just as infinite, as it is out there.
So, I depend upon you in the name of our teachers Paramhansa Yogananda and Swami Kriyananda that we pass this information onto others. We must discuss it with each other and maintain this bond. Because the more we discuss it, the more we bond. The bond will bring us into one unit into oneness, like a drop of water that falls from the sky and touches the ocean. It becomes all the waves that touch its surface and all the sand that touches its shores. We become one in the whole once again. This is our science. Remember, the wiser a man becomes, the more he knows, the little he knows. I hope that God, Guruji, Christ and the great saints allow us to meet again.
Herb wrote a song dedicated to Master entitled “Man on Top of the Hill,” and he sang it to those present. Here are the words to that song.
“Man on Top of the Hill”
There in a City, a beautiful city,
High on the top of a hill,
Lived a stranger with patience.
Who taught about patience and taught about love of His Will.
He spoke about loving, of loving each other.
He said for this reason he’d die.
Like flesh didn’t matter, like rags didn’t matter, what matters the most, is inside.
Way deep down in the middle of your heart,
Make a flame to light the dark.
Way deep down in the middle of your heart,
There’s a flame that lights the spark.
Makes you lose that heavy weight.
Makes you burn away the hate.
Way deep down in the middle of your heart.
There in a city, a beautiful city,
Somewhere in the old Himalay,
The people were kneeling, to hope for the feeling,
And the stranger stole softly away.
Way down deep in the middle of your heart.
Listen to me singing this song of Herb’s or download the MP3:
Herbert Jeffries maintained his life-long discipleship and practiced Kriya regularly until his passing at the ripe old age of 100 in Los Angeles, CA on May 25, 2014.
For more information on Herb Jeffries, see the movie A Colored Life: The Herb Jeffries Story.
About the Author
Tyagi Ram has been a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda and Swami Kriyananda since 1977. He is an Ananda Light Bearer Minister since 1981 and presently resides in Ananda Village, California participating in Ananda program activities.
Thanks for sharing Herb’s story Ram! Lots of inspiration in there! “May we be one in that light some day….” May we all, with the grace of the Masters, keep supporting each other toward that final goal. Blessings to you and all.
Thanks, Ram! Beautiful & inspiring article. And beautiful singing of Man on Top of the Hill, thanks!
Jai Guru! Thank you, for sharing. It was wonderful reading it and to have a mental glimpse of the world then when master was there physically and also for giving the opportunity to listen to your beautiful voice. Thank you once again. Aum
Thank you, Ram! I was very touched by Herb’s stories of Master. His words to you all in 1998 are for him a fitting legacy.
Thank you for this. It had been a long time since I had heard this story from my Dad. I could hear his voice as I read it. Blessings to you.
Trish – Your father was a very dear friend of mine for many years and gave me my spiritual name Deva. Some years later Kriyananda added Priya making my name Deva-Priya but your dad always called me Deva. He was an important spiritual influence in my life because I was a member of SRF and had been meditating for a number of years without too much luck, mainly because I was trying to fit the standard daily meditation schedule into a show business schedule. Baji (your father’s spiritual name given to him by Guruji was Baji Arjunanada) showed me how to do that. Although I had not seen him in person for a number of years Baji and I kept in touch from time to time. At one point he asked if he could have your sister Ferne live with me and my children for a while. We loved her dearly as well but I have lost touch with her over the years. My best to you all and may you always carry loving memories of your father in your heart. He was a kind and gentle man, a spiritual treasure. Love, Sandi DeSilva
I know your name… I wish I could put a face with it. Please see me out on Facebook. I have created a memorial page for my dad there.
Amazing Grace. Thank you so much for this important reminder. I am Grateful for everyday miracles like this article. SatNam
Thank you Ram, the Herb Jeffries story is beautifully great. Your rendition of his song to Master…. Tears of joy!
Peace and Joy,
Thank you Ram!!!
We wrote a long note, but something about the email address wan’t liked. It erased the long note about our remembrance of Jeffries’ resonate voice and his greatness as a devotee.
May your article reach millions. Jai Guru!
Wonderful and inspirational account of this devotee! Really enjoyed it…thanks for sharing it with us. Love and Blessings!
A Real Vintage……..this story, very inspiring indeed!
The knowledge of the Vedas , compiled so beautifully in Paramhans Yagananda’s discourse to His disciple Mr.Herbs…..only in a few words ! Jai Gurudev !
Thank you Ram very much for bringing this direct disciple into our knowing and remembrance. Through every disciple we behold a fuller glimpse onto the Master and the scope of his love for each of us. Bless you and Dikshini in all ways. love, maria
Ram, I recall meeting you at Cafe Aroma in Idyllwild, Ca when you came to visit with my late Husband Herb Jeffries. I saw your picture and I hope this note gets to you to say hello.